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“Good time” in Wisconsin

Defendants in criminal cases often don’t understand good time.  Does it apply to prison?  Is it only in jail?  How is it calculated?

Good time only applies to county jail sentences

Section 302.43 of the Wisconsin Statutes provides the guidelines for good time.  “Every inmate of a county jail is eligible to earn good time in the amount of one-fourth of his or her term for good behavior if sentenced to at least 4 days, but fractions of a day shall be ignored…” Wis. Stat. sec. 302.43.  Simply put, on a 12 day sentence, the defendant will only sit for 9 days in custody.  He earned 3 days, or 25% of the 12 day sentence.  On a 10 days sentence, the defendant earns 2.5 days, but since fractions are ignored, the defendant still sits in jail for the full 8 days.  A defendant who has served time awaiting sentencing is given credit for the time already spent in custody.  Good time is added to that figure.

How is good time taken away?

As the name implies, good time is taken away when the defendant isn’t good.  “An inmate who violates any law or any regulation of the jail, or neglects or refuses to perform any duty lawfully required of him or her, may be deprived by the sheriff of good time under this section, except that the sheriff shall not deprive the inmate of more than 2 days good time for any one offense without the approval of the court…” Wis. Stat. sec. 302.43.  Additionally, good time is taken away when a defendant files certain legal actions, when those actions are done maliciously, with an intent to harass, or the defendant knowingly provides false information in said action.

What about “conditional jail” or jail as a condition of probation?

Sometimes when a defendant is put on probation the judge orders time in jail as a condition of that probation.  For example, the judge may sentence and individual to 2 years probation, but one of the conditions of that probation is 30 days jail.  What does this mean?  The defendant sits in jail for the first 30 days of that 2 year probation term.  Good time is not earned on conditional jail sentences.  Therefore, if the court orders 30 days condition time, 30 days in jail is served.

Defendants often have a hard time grasping the fact this concept, but there is some good news.  In State v. Schell, 2003 WI App 78, 261 Wis. 2d 841, 661 N.W.2d 503 the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin clarified that a circuit court may not prohibit the sheriff from ordering home monitoring for a probationer ordered to serve jail time as a condition of probation.  The court reasoned that by precluding the sheriff from releasing the probationer on home monitoring, the trial court substantially interfered with the sheriff’s power in violation of the separation of powers doctrine.  So although conditional jail time will be served in full, if ordered by the sheriff it can be served at home.

Questions about good time?

Benjamin T. Van Severen is a Milwaukee criminal defense attorney who practices throughout Wisconsin.  If you need help with your criminal case, contact Meyer Van Severen, S.C. at (414) 270-0202.   The law is constantly changing and evolving, so reach out with any questions.  This post was written by criminal defense attorney Matt Meyer on April 15, 2015.